Daily US Times: Chinese researchers said on Thursday that the new coronavirus can persist in men’s semen even after they have begun to recover. The finding raises the possibility the virus could be sexually transmitted.
A team at Shangqiu Municipal Hospital tested 38 male patients treated there at the height of the pandemic in China, in January and February.
About 16% of them had evidence of the coronavirus in their semen, the team reported in the journal JAMA Network Open.
The team reported that about a quarter of them were in the acute stage of infection and nearly 9% of them were recovering.
Diangeng Li of Chinese People’s Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing and colleagues wrote: “We found that SARS-CoV-2 can be present in the semen of patients with COVID-19, and SARS-CoV-2 may still be detected in the semen of recovering patients.”
They added: “Even if the virus cannot replicate in the male reproductive system, it may persist, possibly resulting from the privileged immunity of testes.”
Privileged immunity means the immune system cannot fully reach the region to attack viral invaders.
Though, the finding is not so surprising. It was found before that many viruses can live in the male reproductive tract. Zika and Ebola virus were both found to spread in semen, sometimes months after a male patient had recovered.
It’s not yet clear if the new coronavirus can spread this way. Finding evidence of virus does not always mean it is infectious.
The team wrote: “If it could be proved that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted sexually in future studies, sexual transmission might be a critical part of the prevention of transmission.”
“Abstinence or condom use might be considered as preventive means for these patients. In addition, it is worth noting that there is a need for studies monitoring fetal development. Therefore, to avoid contact with the patient’s saliva and blood may not be enough, since the survival of SARS-CoV-2 in a recovering patient’s semen maintains the likelihood to infect others.”
The researchers said that while the findings are based on only a small number of infected men and it is preliminary, more research is needed to see whether sexual transmission might play a role in the Covid-19 pandemic.
A professor of reproductive medicine at Queen’s University Belfast, Sheena Lewis, said that this was a “very small study”.
She said its findings were in keeping with other small studies showing low or no Sars-CoV-2 in tests of semen samples.